This new series explores learnings from research conducted by Brookfield Properties' Consumer Insights team.
We talked to shoppers to learn more about what's at the heart of what we do: building community
At Brookfield Properties, our mission is to create places for communities to thrive by building inspiring places that bring people together. But how can we deepen the bond with our surrounding shopping center communities? How can we be an active member of our communities? How can we draw visitors in and encourage them to keep coming back?
To find out, we talked with a range of shoppers across the country in more than 15 hours of in-depth focus groups.
Here are four things we learned:
1. "Community" is more than just geography.
From gyms to churches, alumni groups to volunteer groups, communities are built through shared interests, affiliations, connections, and values, although places differ by offering varying levels of emotional payout for people. “The community idea is a gathering of people with common interests, or a common bond to do good together or just to be together,” said Dennis, a 53-year-old from New York. In other words, communities can simply be places to gather and commune, or they can fulfill higher emotional needs when people work together towards common goals or benefiting the greater good.
2. COVID-19 has accelerated the longing to find community in physical places.
Covid has pushed connection dynamics further into the digital and virtual worlds, creating an appetite for the emotional benefits of physical togetherness — including spontaneity, play, laughter, making new friends, recapturing a sense of adventure and newness, and belonging to something outside of oneself. Our research found that having places to gather that are separate from work or home is key. While participating in charitable/philanthropic efforts was important, it took a back seat to the promise of genuine fun and a coming together of people. "Having an event would be more important than just donating," said Janet, a 50-year-old from Minnesota. "I like the idea of real traditions, the tradition of going back and participating somehow."
3. Businesses can be part of the community.
According to our interviewees, businesses that are actively involved in local initiatives and use their physical location to build awareness or host those initiatives are seen as part of a community. “I don’t necessarily think of businesses as part of the community, because they don’t give me a warm, fuzzy community feel . . . but if it’s very clear that they are intentionally involving themselves and giving back, it makes me feel they are being community-oriented,” said Taylor, 26, from Minnesota.
4. Malls can serve as community hubs, reflecting the heartbeat of a hometown.
People we talked to felt malls have underutilized spaces and were open to the idea of malls engaging them through shared experiences like blood drives, local social events, health and fitness initiatives, educational events, concerts, art installations, farmers markets, and seasonal festivals. “These are the things I think of when I think of community, especially events — now there’s a reason to spend more time there,” said Amy, a 28-year-old participant from Texas.
While these findings aren't surprising to us at Brookfield Properties, we were impressed that we are so aligned with what our communities are looking for. For example, last year alone, we hosted more than 1,300 community events across our shopping center portfolio and held 425 blood drives. And many of our shopping centers hosted their own unique community initiatives in response to local needs.
Case in point: Willowbrook Mall, Deerbrook Mall, The Woodlands Mall, and Riverchase Galleria recently partnered to create Heart Gallery, an installation showcasing pictures of local foster children in need. This initiative was instrumental in the adoption of more than 10 youth in the Houston and Birmington metro markets, demonstrating the power of a community hub to understand and address the needs of its members.
More than just places to shop, our marketplaces are resources that enrich local communities. "We're focused on contributing to our communities in a positive way," says Stephanie Brager, EVP of property management at Brookfield Properties. "We want to create inspriring, welcoming places that draw people in. It's about bringing people together."
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